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‘Kahin ek masoom nazuk si ladki, bahut khubsoorat, magar sanwli si’ crooned Rafi in an enchanting old bollywood number. It is a melodious composition, but the word ‘magar’ always set me thinking – why? Aren’t dark (sanwali) and beautiful, compatible?
Damaging ideas like these permeate the very air we breathe and hit us like pointed barbs. We, the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Indo-Gangetic plains - the Lord in his pragmatic wisdom gave us a melanin rich shield from the scorching sun. And we loved it. No wonder, Draupadi, the famed beauty of our epics was a dark belle. No wonder the Lord Krishna himself came to us in a dark glistening avatar. No wonder Shyam was Sundar for many centuries before the Britishers came and usurped our very identity, our very notions of what defined beauty.
We shook off their rule on our political boundaries but not on our minds.
And so when I was an adolescent I grew up with the implicit knowledge that perhaps I would have to compromise on my choices in life because I was not conventionally good looking. I tried scraping the skin on my arms and legs with a pumice stone, meant for the feet, so a fresh layer of fair skin would emerge from beneath, but all in vain. It just stung like hell. I grew up in the certain belief that I was not good looking and that gave me minus points on my report card.
And then I got married to a dark and handsome guy. Apart from his wisdom, his glowing dark complexion surely tipped the scales in his favour!
But then again I lapped up all the praise that the family showered on me for turning several shades lighter after my marriage. ‘Wahan ka pani bada saaf hai!’ was a common refrain!
Yes, I am ashamed to admit it – I am racist too.
Why else would I slather my face and body in sunscreen every time I ventured out in the sun?
But something in me changed when my daughter was born. Beautiful - not her features, not her skin colour, but her vitality, the life that sparkled in her eyes, the healthy glow that her unapologetically dark skin radiated. And I realised how wrong I was all these years. If she is my splitting image then I am endowed with beauty too!
And now that she is growing into a young girl from a carefree toddler the evilness has started hitting her as well.
“Mommy, my friend’s brother called me ‘Kaliya’”
“Please please put some powder on my face so that I can look like Barbie?”
“What can I do to become fair like you?”
The irony of it all hits me. Here we go again. When she is casted in the role of a maid servant in her school play, I wince to think it might be because of her complexion. Don’t remind me of how her friends teased her at school; that still hurts.
I brush off the often received advice from well meaning relatives. ‘Try a masoor dal paste’ ‘limit her sun exposure’ ‘swimming is the worst’…it goes on. I turn a deaf ear to people who say ‘She is very pretty but if only her skin colour were lighter’. My daughter does not. Every pernicious idea is being imbibed, gradually but surely.
They say in Hindi ‘Agar rang thoda aur saaf hota toh…’
Saaf – means ‘clean’. Who and what gave them the notion that dark is ‘ganda’? Dirty?
The media for one harps on this idea ad nauseum. The films, advertisements, the casting directors reinforce these retrograde ideas.
‘Jiski biwi kali uska bhi bada naam hai’ is such an entertaining song after all!
So thank you Abhay Deol for calling it out. We support you from the bottom of our hearts. Thank you Nandita Das for being a role model. And forgive us, the African fraternity.
For those who live by the sword, will die by the sword too.
Read more at http://millsinreverie.blogspot.in/